Saturday, April 30, 2022

Travelling Hopefully - Well, Eventually

 A trip away!  Oh what glorious words.  For two years I have been trapped in my home city while plague assaulted the barricades and my personal sanity leaked out my ears.  Now however the plague has subsided or at least our level of concern about it has and I am free to spread my wings.  So I'm off to... Melbourne.

Yes, a bit of an anticlimax there but you know, baby steps.  There was a war gaming competition I wanted to attend and for reasons of sheer perversity (and the fact that the organisers lived there) it was to be held in Melbourne.  I tacked a couple of extra days on and wound up spending a full week in Australia's southern capital.  My excitement as the day to leave drew nearer was intense.  In fact my excitement was so intense that it almost survived contact with Sydney airport.

I have in the past, on this very blog, been a little less than enthusiastic about Sydney's gateway to the world.  Indeed I've always thought they should have a sign on the way out saying "Welcome to Sydney, Don't Worry the Worst is Over".  Well no more, I approached its dimly lit hallways with a rarely felt sense of satisfaction and delight.  If only I could spend more time nestled in its concrete bosom.

Fortunately Qantas heard my silent prayer.  Dire warnings of delays as travel crazed passengers clawed and bit at each other for the opportunity to get onto a plane, any plane had prompted me to turn up with plenty of time.  Two hours for a domestic flight the doomsayers had suggested and I skipped out of work a bit early so I could arrive two hours before my 6.45pm flight.

Tumbleweeds were rolling through the airport when I arrived.  The tiny handful of people huddling within its vast confines did little to counter the impression that I had walked into a large, abandoned warehouse.  It took all of my self control to stop myself from ripping copper wiring out of the walls.  After successfully dispatching my luggage on its own journey to Melbourne and passing through security in thirty seconds I settled down for the two hour wait until my flight was due to depart.  Once I was done with that I then settled down to wait the extra two hours until my plane actually departed.  I was actually due in Melbourne before my plane left the ground in Sydney.  By the time I had reintroduced myself to my luggage in Melbourne and made it to my hotel it was sufficiently late that I was in danger of having my reservation cancelled.  Fortunately thanks to covid they were desperate for the business and were probably prepared to hold my room for a fortnight if need be.

Realising that it had screwed up a little Qantas pulled out all of the stops on my return journey to ensure I wouldn't be kept hanging around at the airport.  My flight was at 11.30am and on 5.30pm the previous day they texted me to say it was cancelled.  After an hour and a half futilely going in circles on their website I received another text saying they had booked me on a flight three hours earlier instead.  A couple of hours later they texted me again to tell me that flight was cancelled as well.  Finally they sent me another text telling me I was booked on an even earlier flight.  I'm pretty sure they would have booked me on a flight a couple of days ago if they could have worked out the temporal physics involved.

Once they got my sleep deprived self onto a plane Qantas just couldn't let go.  It was announced that we would have to circle Sydney airport for a while (possibly until the cabin crew threw up).  They blamed air traffic control but I couldn't help getting the feeling that Qantas was flirting with me.  Sorry, I meant fucking with me.  When I got out of the airport in Sydney it was raining because it always is whenever I arrive home from a trip away.  My taxi driver accused me of bringing the rain with me but I pointed out that it was always here waiting when I arrived.

Sunday, April 17, 2022

A Brief Pause for Reflection

 It seems that my blog has degenerated into little more than place to file the latest after action reports from my wargame and to write about walks through overgrown bits of suburbia.  Plus of course the occasional rant from a random Tasmanian.  Actually its a rant from a highly specific Tasmanian but the principle remains.

For a while covid provided me with a source of fresh material but ultimately there are only so many ways to say "diseases are infectious" and "people are idiots".  The war in Ukraine is far too serious a subject for a deeply silly blog and the election that our august prime minister recently called seems to be a choice between the devil you know and the other devil you know.  On a personal level the most interesting thing that has happened to me of late is that this morning while having breakfast at 3am I managed to bite my tongue lengthways.

It is a source of some annoyance to me that my cracked and decaying teeth which have difficulty gumming their way through a slice of milk softened bread can nevertheless manage to tear the inside of my mouth to shreds with the efficiency of a velociraptor on feeding frenzy.  Having my morning repast interrupted by a sudden spray of obscenity flavoured fruit loops did at least add a little variety to my day.

On the domestic front I have trained my stuffed platypus to use the vacuum cleaner while my spider has apparently converted the place to an airbnb if the number of actual arachnids I have hanging around is anything to go by.  In addition to the vacuuming my puffin is helping me clean the windows.  Well, I say he's helping actually I'm spraying him with Windex and using him to wipe down the windows.  This is one of the reasons why my puffin, once black and white, is now a dirty grey.  It also helps to explain his hopeless addiction to cleaning products.

The Easter weekend provided a perfect opportunity to not do all of the things I've been putting off around the house.  I must admit I got quite a sense of achievement from reflecting on all the things I didn't do.  Trying to remember anything I actually did do has proved somewhat more problematic.  A work colleague mentioned that her daughter needed a hat for their school's Easter hat parade but wasn't particularly impressed with my suggestion of a crown of thorns.  I honestly don't know why I try helping people sometimes.

One thing I did decide to do over Easter was to try and broaden the scope of subjects on my blog to make it more appealing to the seven billion or so people who aren't interested in wargames or random parts of Sydney.  You see the results above.  Or rather you probably don't because the likelihood of you having got this far through what is essentially a random stream of consciousness is rather low.  In fact the term "stream of consciousness" is a bit of a misnomer as its more like puddles of semi consciousness.

I have to go now, the puffin is mainlining the washing powder again.

Sunday, April 3, 2022

Travelling Pathetically - Exhausting Creek Bed Edition

 The ocean going raft was a wretched thing; a crazy, lashed together collection of waterlogged timber off cuts and random detritus.  It was the sort of vessel one gets when the only engineers available are of the software variety.  The raft floated or rather wallowed on a sea unbroken by any hint of land.  Basically the whole thing resembled a low budget (but better quality) version of Waterworld.

I sat on the driest thing I could find (a collection of waterlogged sponges) and addressed the eager group of children hanging on my every word.  Occasionally a tentacle would rise from the sea and snatch away one of those closest to the edge.  The odd gruesome death did not stop the others from listening to my tales with sparkling eyes.

"Tell us another tale of the dry Uncle Neil," begged one urchin covered in mould.  I closed my eyes, largely so I didn't have to see them, and cast my mind back to the days before the rain.  The days when one could walk outside without drowning.  The days when this miserable floating wreck wasn't the last remnant of human civilisation.  The days when taking a shower was a cleanliness option not a continual experience.

"My tale," I announced, "is of one of the last days before the rain."  I scraped up my memories, invented huge chunks to cover the boring bits (most of it) and commenced.

So yes, the weather is getting to me a little but a few weeks ago I stepped out boldly onto only slightly soggy ground for a gentle afternoon stroll.  Having exhausted all options in my immediate vicinity I decided to try something a little further afield.  I had been informed that it was possible to make ones way from the vicinity of Lake Parramatta to various places on the North Shore without having to go through all of that irritating surburbia stuff that was in the way.  Essentially I would follow various creeks making my way through all the bits of land that proved just a little too inconvenient to build on.

It has to be admitted my planning for this journey was a little sketchy.  I didn't really have a destination but since the thin strips of green on the map were surrounded by built up areas I figured I could just leave the green when I got tired and find myself somewhere I could probably catch a cab.  To be fair this plan worked, just.

It was touch and go whether I actually went at all.  The real rains were still a week or so away but the sky was an unpleasant grey colour and there were occasional drizzles of rain.  The thought of getting caught in what is essentially a creek bed during a genuine downpour wasn't pleasant but eventually I decided to risk it.

My walk would officially start at Lake Parramatta a stretch of water whose existence I was barely aware of.  It was created to provide drinking water for Parramatta despite the fact that Parramatta had a functioning river.  The reason for the need was because as usual the population had polluted Parramatta River and then started bemoaning the lack of a fresh water supply.  Eventually they slung a dam across one of the creeks I would be walking up and drank from that.  Parramatta no longer sources its drinking water from this location but because the dam was built rather well the lake is still there.  Now it serves as a recreation area for such of the population as can find it and a home for numerous plant and animal species who probably don't have anywhere else to go.

Lake Parramatta isn't exactly convenient to get to if you don't drive.  It's tucked away at the back of a mess of suburban streets with little in the way of sign posting.  It is also a fair distance from Parramatta railway station where I alighted half expecting the lake to be in the next street.  Alas no, I would have to walk not just to my destination but also to my starting point.  Along the way I crossed the Parramatta River which oozed happily along on its not particularly long journey to the sea.

The Parramatta River doing its best to be scenic

Normally when I want to get somewhere I identify the location on a map and then do the best I can to walk as directly towards it as the street layout will permit.  It usually works but this technique doesn't factor in variables such as half the streets in the city being shut down due to works on an upcoming light rail system.  One of the workers very kindly took time out of industriously leaning on a sign to inform me that I couldn't get through the way I wanted and would have to circle around a fair bit.  Instead I decided to cut through what was either an abandoned cemetery or a cemetery where they've let the grass grow quite a lot.

If this is starting to sound like the script for a cheap horror movie I can only assure you that I made it through the cemetery alive and that absolutely nothing left out at me from mouldering tombs or ancient crypts.  Although this being Australia the best we can probably do is middle aged crypts.  I did however take a couple of photos.

Cemetery photo #1. I'm happy to report the occupant of this grave stayed put during my visit

The cemetery sojourn did provide a welcome break from just wandering along suburban streets which at this point I was starting to suspect would form the bulk of my day.

Cemetery photo #2 the graves aren't well tended but the trees are obviously well fertilised

Eventually I made my way through a mess of Parramatta back streets (and the occasional cemetery) and found myself at the reserve that Lake Parramatta calls its home.  A dark entryway seemed to welcome me if I could make my way through it without impacting on any vehicle traffic.  Fortunately due to a combination of covid and the weather cars were not out in force that day.

Abandon all hope ye who enter here (and watch out for the traffic)

Yes I had finally made it, the object of my journey was at hand.  Lake Parramatta lay spread out before me in all its glory.  It's aquatic magnificence barely marred by the ghastly imitation swan paddle boats which had inexplicably been permitted to proliferate on its surface.

The wonders of nature

Despite a certain level of artificial swan induced disillusion I was pleased.  Lake Parramatta stretched before me surrounded by trees, bushes, picnic areas and car parks.  A not unmanageable number of people were enjoying barbecues and swan pedal boat rides despite the fact that the weather wasn't looking any friendlier than it had at the start of my trip.

Flushed with success I set out on the next stage of my journey.  I took a look at the dam which prevented the lake from depositing itself amongst the townsfolk and gave a cheery hello to a lizard which was clouding itself on a rock.  The lizard was probably hoping for sun but having made the effort of getting up onto the rock was damned if it was going to let the absence of sun from getting in its way.

Grey rock, grey lizard, grey water.  It was that sort of day really

Behold, a dam

I strolled along the lake, partially because it was a pleasant, bushy stroll and partially because I had to figure out what to do next.  The lake itself might have made for an enjoyable walk but such was not my intention.  No dear reader I had set myself a sterner task (in my defence I didn't realise that at the time).  Part way around the lake according to google maps was a path that would lead me away from the lake and up to a road.  Up I went and a road obligingly presented itself.  Taking a last despairing glance at civilisation I plunged down the other side towards the wild bushland that awaited.

For the record Lake Parramatta is filled by Hunts Creek, I had hopped over North Rocks Road to walk along Darling Mills Creek which paralleled it for a fair distance.  Above me was the noise of an inhabited city, down among the trees were the sounds of nature.  Also the sounds of cricket since my entryway to the walking path started at an oval where two teams of eleven men (and almost as many spectators) were trying to justify getting away from their families for the day.  Leaving the sports enthusiasts behind I hurried on until I encountered what is euphemistically named an assisted living facility.  Basically one of those places where old folks crawl away to die.  A sharp right turn however and I was in genuine bush.

The silence, although not absolute was immediate and my spirits rose as I felt confident that the next thing I was going to see wouldn't be a block of flats.  The path was narrow but signposted (helpful as there were areas where the path was more notional than real) and took me through damp, gently rotting bush.  The creek was down there somewhere but for the most part there were trees in the way of my view.

See, bush

And of course the Clare McIntyre memorial fungus

I strode cheerily through the bush trying not to think of exactly how long it had taken me to get this far and resolutely refusing to look at the sky which was gradually transforming from grey to even more grey.  From time to time I got a glimpse of the creek which cheered me immensely as it proved that I had not managed to get myself hopelessly lost.  The possibility that the world might possess more than one creek I kept firmly out of my mind.

Then I walked into the back of someone's house.  I stopped, backed up a moment and realised I had reached a t-intersection I could either turn left or right.  The signs helpfully pointed out that I could go in either direction.  I chose right and set out with purpose with bush on one side and houses on the other.  There was also a fair bit of that bright orange plastic netting that is put in place to stop the bush from leaping out and killing people.  It turned out there was a very good reason for this as witness the sign below.

Just what you want to see on a bushwalk

I did my best not to breathe as I hurried past and looked forward to the moment when I would be once again surrounded by bush.  It arrived and I heaved a sigh of (hopefully not asbestos laden) relief.  Happily I struck out again and within minutes I had turned up back at the oval where guys were playing cricket.  I had managed to walk in a complete circle.  My face burning with embarrassment (or possibly asbestos) I turned around and hastened back past the sign and a rather shop soiled magpie until I arrived back at the intersection where I should obviously have turned left.

Definitely one of the scraggier looking magpies I have seen (unless its a currawong)

Once more back on track I plunged forward.  I can't say I did it with renewed confidence as by now I wouldn't have been surprised if I had wound up in my own driveway.  Fortunately I was on the right path now and it wasn't really my fault if the path was overgrown and frequently difficult to find.  Often I only knew I was on the path because I realised that walking would have been somewhat more difficult if the path hadn't been there.

I had left the houses behind now and was walking or rather struggling along the valley floor.  I say struggling because this area was denuded of trees.  Instead thickly growing bushes (and plenty of noxious weeds) filled the area.  The path became more of a suggestion than a thoroughfare but even more important as it was obvious that absent a machete and a possibly a flamethrower I wasn't going to get through any other way.

Somewhat overgrown

Nevertheless I perservered if only because I couldn't think of anything else to do.  I wasn't quite lost, its a little difficult to get lost on a single track, but I wasn't entirely sure where I was.  Actually I spent most of the walk not entirely sure where I was.  This didn't particularly concern me as I knew that somewhere above me was a collection of suburbs and all the accoutrements of a major city.  My lack of concern was rather stupid as the presence of such things a few hundred metres away wouldn't stop me from dying right here if anything went wrong.

To emphasis the point of exactly how far away a couple of hundred metres is when a decent amount of them are straight up the path took this opportunity to wander past some impressive sandstone cliffs.  Water trickled down them and the ground was distinctly wet under foot.  Thoughts of what might happen if I got caught in a sudden downpour started to wander through my mind.  The conclusions were not exactly encouraging.

There are probably houses or shops at the top of this.  However I am at the bottom

On I went and was eventually rewarded when the scenery turned from somewhat low rent bushes and morning glory into "proper" bushland ie trees with a very obvious path. This was a bit of a relief as I hadn't been entirely sure I was on a path at all.

Speaking of sudden downpours the reason for my considering this was the fact that the sky was looking more ominous by the second.  For all my brave talk about being a few hundred metres from civilisation until the path deigned to take me in that direction I had no obvious way of getting there.  Nevertheless I put such things from my mind.  The good thing about making no preparations is that you don't really need to worry about disaster, if it happens there's nothing you can do anyway.  However I did step out a little more briskly now that I wasn't struggling through the undergrowth as it occurred to me that it might be a good idea to bring this walk to a conclusion sooner rather than later.

Random butterfly photo

A couple of hours later I would still be doing the same thing.  As I moved on through the bush I gained glimpses of the creek whose course I had apparently been following this entire time.  It was quite friendly and was happy to pause and pose for photos.  I declined to follow its instagram account however.

Creek photo #1

From time to time the path would guide me back to the water so I could take another photo and I finally realised that the creek was a bit of a camera hog.  Not surprising really, it probably doesn't get too much attention in normal times.

Creek photo #2

After what seemed an age (and what fitter people would probably call a few minutes) I encountered an opportunity to ascend to higher and more thickly populated ground.  An actual sealed road intersected with my path and led upwards.  I followed it heading eagerly towards disillusion pausing only to take a photo of a mini anthill on the way.

It looked slightly more impressive in real life although not much

And of course the now obligatory fungus.

Once I got to the top I luxuriated in the presence of sealed roads and buildings until I looked around and realised I had no idea where the hell I was.  A quick examination of google maps informed me that I had come out at the back of a modest industrial estate a considerable distance from anything I would call civilisation ie coffee shops and railway stations.  I gazed back at the bush, shrugged and plunged back into wild.

Having recommitted myself to the natural world once of the first things I encountered was a mass of graffiti covered concrete.  This was Northmead Dam, a flood retention project built in the 1990s for the dual purpose of ensuring that the creek didn't get anyone's backyard soggy and of course providing a canvas for graffiti artists that wouldn't actually be seen by anyone who wasn't actually looking for it.  A tunnel over the creek allowed access to the upsteam and a helpful sign suggested that it might not be a great idea to enter the tunnel if a torrent of water was spewing from it.  Fortunately while I was there the creek was on its best behaviour.

The aforementioned tunnel.  Do not enter if full of water.

On I pushed, by now I was starting to get a little concerned.  It was starting to get late and the weather was looking more ominous by the second (incidentally I hate to spoil the suspense but it didn't rain the entire time.  It just looked as though it was about to).  I actually needed to get out of here, unfortunately one of the things I hadn't done before setting out was decide on a destination.  Fortunately the decision was made for me.  A sign informed me that somewhere up ahead one could exit the bush at West Pennant Hills.  I knew nothing about West Pennant Hills except that it wasn't at the bottom of a bush festooned creek so I struck out hastening my pace as much as was commensurate with safety and my own decaying body.

It was typical that now that I was hurrying and less inclined to look around me that the scenery produced its best material.  Trees, bush and a genuinely picturesque creek flowing through.  I nodded breathlessly at the natural beauty presented for my weary delectation and hastened onwards.  The scenery had every right to feel a little miffed.

Miffed scenery

Not really knowing where West Pennant Hills was (or where I was for that matter) meant that I didn't really have an expectation for when I would arrive.  I just kept trudging onwards along paths that I nervously realised were getting muddier by the minute.  Another stream turned up apparently for the sole purpose of confusing me as to which direction I should go in (I picked the right way by luck) then suddenly there was a motorway.  A ribbon of concrete alive with cars.  Unfortunately it was a couple of hundred metres directly above me.  I walked under the M2 and continued my search for a means of getting back to a suddenly desirable environment of concrete and tarmac.

That is the M2 motorway.  It looks better from this angle

The M2 soon vanished in my wake which is an impressive achievement for a multilane motorway and I pushed on through the bush.  The end when it came was slightly anti climactic.  I had been gradually trending upward and I suddenly wandered out onto a street in West Pennant Hills as had been promised.

I felt a sense of achievement but mostly I felt sore and tired.  The simple truth is; I'm over fifty, hopelessly unfit and not in the best of health.  I had pushed myself too far.  For what happened next I can only blame sheer insanity.  There was a bus stop nearby but a glance at google maps told me that Cherrybrook metro station wasn't too far away.  Indeed it wasn't, two kilometres is by no means a great distance.  For reasons that seemed pretty sketchy at the time and haven't improved with age I stumbled, shuffled and eventually limped along suburban streets until I finally reached Cherrybrook and brought an end to my journey (apart from the rail trip home).  By the time I got back to my apartment I had stiffened up so much I could hardly get up the stairs.